Besieged Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president William Wallace made his third approach to Fifa today requesting mediation, via the world governing body’s local firm the Law Offices of Dr Claude Denbow SC, as the elected officers try to stave off their attempted removal.
The Fifa Bureau of the Council, headed by Fifa president Gianni Infantino, declared that Wallace and vice-presidents Clynt Taylor, Susan Joseph-Warrick and Sam Phillip were removed immediately on 17 March after just four months in office, due to serious financial issues at the local football body.
Wallace subsequently wrote to Infantino on 24 March and Fifa’s head of litigation, Miguel Palacios, on 25 May requesting dialogue and stressing that TTFA officials are happy to work with Fifa and Concacaf to address the relevant concerns. Neither letter bore fruit.
At present, the two bodies are set to fight in the High Court where the TTFA filed an injunction to block Fifa and its normalisation committee from interfering in its operations. Fifa, through the Law Offices of Dr Claude Denbow SC, are expected to counter that the case should be fought at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) due to an arbitration clause in the constitution of both parties.
Attorney Jerome Rajcoomar, who is representing Fifa in the High Court alongside Dr Claude Denbow and Donna Denbow, declined comment on the matter.
Wallace, who is represented legally by Matthew Gayle, Dr Emir Crowne and Crystal Paul, made it clear that they would prefer an amicable settlement out of court.
“While our client maintains its position in respect of the merits of its case, there is no escaping the fact that a working relationship between our respective clients is essential for the good of football in Trinidad and Tobago,” stated Gayle, in an email to Mrs Denbow this morning. “Mr Wallace has repeatedly called upon [Fifa] to discuss the way forward with himself and his executive; but these calls have thus far gone unanswered.
“I trust that good sense will prevail and your client will now agree to meet our client at the negotiating table in the interest of and for the good of the sport. This approach, as I understand it, is in keeping with the spirit of Part 1.1, ‘The Overriding Objective of the Civil Proceedings Rule’.
“To this end, our client is optimistic that progress may be made towards a resolution of the issues promptly and without the need for further costs to be incurred by either of the parties to the instant matter.”
Wallace and his vice-presidents gave Fifa a deadline of 2pm on Friday to respond. Thus far, Infantino and Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura have been unwilling to engage.
On 24 March, Wallace wrote to Infantino and, after enquiring about his health and the wellbeing of his family, ‘humbly’ sought dialogue of the Fifa Bureau decision that he described as: ‘a bit premature and unjustifiable’.
Again, the TTFA president hinted at the controversial real estate deal involving the Arima Velodrome as its ace to address the local body’s debt.
“Discussions commenced with the stakeholders which include arms of the government,” stated Wallace, “and even though this arrangement has prematurely [been put] in the media domain our foreign partners are still behind us. There were plans by our partners to visit Trinidad and Tobago in mid April to formally continue the conversation, of course based on Covid-19 this is not possible.
“They are however, preparing the necessary documents to send to us over the next couple days so that the conversation can continue. We humbly think this should have been given a chance to materialise because regardless of who is responsible for football in Trinidad and Tobago, progress would be impeded once this debt exists.”
More to the point, Wallace stressed that if Infantino wants to improve the governance structure at the TTFA, he would be pushing against an open door.
“If specialist persons have to be sent, why can’t they work with the elected executive?” asked Wallace. “Why is there a need for new elections if the elections held in November was free and fair? To the above questions I have no answers and because of the lack of clarity speculation is rife.
“My executive is willing to work with Fifa and Concacaf and hope that together we can have some dialogue on these issues and others and move forward for the good of the game in Trinidad and Tobago and the region.
“Many theories are been put forward as expected but once we can arrive at an amicable solution those would soon be relegated to the dustbin of history… We prefer that dialogue can commence and thus replace our legal action.”
Infantino never responded although, three days later, Samoura did on his behalf.
“While we understand that as the newly elected president, you disagree with the Fifa Council Bureau’s decision to appoint a normalisation committee in the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association,” stated Samoura, “let me highlight that Fifa is competent to replace executive bodies of member associations by a normalisation committee for a specific period under exceptional circumstances.
“Furthermore Fifa can, based on its own assessment and in collaboration with the relevant confederation, consider the situation as exceptional enough to justify an application of this provision.
“Fifa will therefore not enter into any kind of unofficial correspondence of negotiation with you on the specific reasons for its decision and reserves its arguments and evidences for any possible official legal action related to this matter.”
On 25 May, Gayle reached out to Fifa’s head of litigation on Wallace’s behalf and pointed to media reports that suggested the world governing body was set to help address the Zimbabwe FA’s US$10 million debt.
“The ongoing dispute between the TTFA and Fifa will only have a deleterious effect on the sport which serves no proper purpose,” stated Gayle. “That being said, the approach recently adopted by Fifa in respect of the Zimbabwean governing body of football does seem to suggest a more sensitive approach to Fifa’s duties towards national bodies.
“To be clear, the board of the [TTFA] have readily admitted that the claimant is in dire financial straits. This in large part, if not entirely, was due to the actions for the immediate past executive.
“[…] My client has instructed that I write to you to respectfully request you agree to an all parties conference to discuss on a without prejudice basis the matters between the parties, in a hope for amicable resolution…”
Fifa never responded.
Today, Wallace and his vice-presidents tried again through Fifa’s latest counsel.
The United TTFA, which includes the TTFA’s elected officers as well as North Zone president Anthony Harford and Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) president Keith Look Loy, said it prefers ‘direct bilateral talks between the parties’ and stressed that it views the courtroom as only a last resort.
“United TTFA states clearly that its three proposals for talks are intended to amicably resolve the issue at hand,” stated a release from the group today. “These [approaches] are made without prejudice to its High Court claim, which it will vigorously pursue if Fifa fails to respond, yet again, to today’s offer.”